He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)
What does it mean to be in the image of God? Paul really goes a long way in Colossians 1 to clearing up the mystery. If Christ is the image of God and he is the firstborn of all creation, then part of the definition of imago Dei is “born of God.” John refers to this when he says, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5) He begins that passage by saying that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. So Jesus is the firstborn, and we who believe are also born. To bear the image of God, you have to be born of God.
Paul also makes a very important distinction for us. All things were made by God through Christ. That doesn’t make all things born of God. Made by and born of are two very different things. I may fabricate a widget, but that doesn’t make it my child.
He is also before all things. Jesus existed before all created matter. That’s why he said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I am.” And he is also over all things, especially over the church. But again, the church is not born of God. Just as God cannot be understood as being a collective or a pantheon, so we cannot understand the new birth apart from the individual. Certainly those who believe make up the Body of Christ as surely as cells make up a human body, but each cell must be given life individually. The other cells don’t give life to it. That’s why Jesus is the “glue” that holds each individual cell together.
But what an exciting thought that I am born, not of the will of the flesh or the will of man. I am born of God! There really isn’t anything that gives me more encouragement to live for him than that. I want to be like the one who bore me. He has given me his own image. When God looks at me, lump of clay that I was, he now sees the exact image of his own splendor.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray gets stuck in an endless loop where every day is exactly the same. In this hellish eternity, he has fallen in love with a woman he had formerly pretty well ignored at best and treated badly at worst. After a few centuries of loving her and yet not being able to have her, he goes to a winter carnival (that happens every day at the same time in this alternative world) and learns to do ice sculpture. One evening, he shows the woman his sculpture of her face. It is the exact likeness of her because he has so completely learned ever contour and shape of her face that he could carve her image blindfolded.
God, give me the grace to so study YOU that I am able to recognize the contour and shape of your beautiful face in each face I meet. And carve the exact image of Christ in lines on my face until I look exactly like you.